Local Politics

Saturday, Sep 29 2012 06:00 PM

Alan Tandy: 20 years of accomplishment, 'forceful' dealing

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy has been at his job for 20 years, nearly three times longer than the average city manager. He has a long list of accomplishments, including heading up efforts to develop Rabobank Arena, the downtown ice center and pool, Mill Creek Linear Park and what's now the Marriott Hotel. He's rubbed people the wrong way at times, but even those people marvel at his achievements and say he's always had the city's interest at heart.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bakersfield City manager Alan Tandy in a 2012 photo.

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    By Casey Christie/The Californian

    In this 2004 photo, Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy plays ice hockey on his lunch break at what's now called the San Joaquin Community Hospital Ice Center. “I suspect Alan approaches hockey like he approaches everything in his life, which is with a bit of intensity,” said teammate John Genter. “He’s very, very dependable. ... When he gets his shift (in a game), he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy tries his skill at disc golf at the new City in the Hills Park.

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    By John Harte / The Californian

    In this May 2008 photo, Col. Claw'd, the Bakersfield Condors mascot, makes himself right at home in the dignitaries' seats with City Manager Alan Tandy and Vince Roche during the opening ceremony for the new sports rink at Saunders Park. Roche helped facilitate the development of the facility.

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    By Casey Christie/The Californian

    In this file photo from 2009, Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy, left, and former Congressman Bill Thomas have some fun at the podium during the groundbreaking ceremony on Truxtun Extension and Mohawk Street for the first phase of the Westside Parkway, Bakersfield's first freeway to be constructed in 30 years.

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    By Casey Christie

    Bakersfield City Councilman Ken Weir, left, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, former Congressman Bill Thomas, Caltrans District 6 Director, Malcolm Dougherty, Mayor Harvey Hall, City Manager, Alan Tandy, and Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, right, all move some dirt during the groundbreaking in September for the State Route 178 at Fairfax Road Interchange Project, a part of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, known as TRIP.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL, Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield that Alan Tandy came to in 1992 is not one many would recognize today.

The city's main drag, Chester Avenue, was in many ways devoid of life. Storefronts were shuttered, property values abysmal, greenery scarce.

The unfinished Clarion Hotel on Truxtun Avenue was an abandoned steel-and-concrete frame. The Rabobank Arena, Mill Creek Linear Park and San Joaquin Community Hospital Ice Center weren't even on the drawing board.

August marked Tandy's 20th year as city manager, the longest anyone has held the top administrative job in city history. In that time, Tandy has played a key role in getting those and other major projects built, while also keeping the city financially secure as others like it flounder.

Even those who've disliked his personal style -- which years ago almost got him fired -- marvel at his accomplishments.

People who've worked with Tandy say he's done it by being quick with numbers and forward-looking, mastering complexities and being a tough negotiator.

And he's done it despite being intense, introverted, blunt and occasionally lacking in diplomacy, those same people say.

"I don't think he's universally beloved, but I think he's pretty universally respected," said Councilwoman Sue Benham.

 

CONSERVATIVE APPROACH

Adorning the walls of City Hall North's fifth floor are several framed national and state awards Bakersfield's administrators have received for creating sound, transparent and cohesive budgets. While cities like Stockton, similar to our size and also hard-hit by the housing crisis, are declaring bankruptcy, Tandy prevented Bakersfield from getting in over its head with a conservative approach to municipal spending.

After several years of belt-tightening, Tandy delivered the good news in May that the city could hire 38 more people, including five police officers, to start replenishing the roughly 170 positions cut through the recession.

Even so, Tandy and his staff didn't overreach when circumstances changed.

Just two weeks before a final budget was approved, quarterly sales tax revenues came in below expectations. A long-term agreement with the county for animal control services looked about to disintegrate. So Tandy and his staff scaled back, cutting their sales tax projection, cutting a dozen jobs they'd hoped to add and preparing for the new possibility the city would have to come up with both money and people to operate its own animal shelter.

"We're ... very thorough about adjusting our expenditure levels to our revenues," Tandy said. "Some communities are too slow to adjust, don't have the fortitude to adjust because it's painful."

Jacques LaRochelle, former assistant director of public works for Bakersfield, saw Tandy steer the city's finances through economic slumps with creative thinking to limit layoffs.

"I have to admire him for this: his thing was, 'Let's figure out a way to shift people around to non-general funded revenue sources to save people's jobs, especially people who ... have talent," said LaRochelle, now Napa's public works director.

In an economic downturn, tax revenues drop, putting pressure on the general fund, which pays for core city services like police. Moving jobs away from the general fund to separate and self-sustaining enterprise funds takes off some of the pressure to do layoffs, LaRochelle explained.

"He's an outside-the-box thinker," LaRochelle said. "He's quite bright and has a very strong grasp of financial issues."

 

INTENSITY

Still, Tandy can be difficult to work with, said several people who've been on the other side of the negotiating table from him. One city department director hired by Tandy said he sometimes pushes people's buttons to get things done.

Many of those same people, however, said they respect Tandy's tenacious fight for the city's interests.

Former Kern County Resource Management Agency Director Dave Price was on the other end of negotiations when Bakersfield and Kern County hammered out the first of a series of agreements in 2003 for a joint animal control facility.

"Alan never wanted to pay the full amount of what the costs were," Price said. "After a while, it just got to the point where we thought we were being taken advantage of. ... It was just things like that that made him a challenge to work with."

Tandy was a formidable and savvy negotiator, Price said. "(He'd) intertwine issues that weren't related. ... He'd always try to keep you off guard."

Yet there were times Price and Tandy worked out mutually beneficial deals, he said, like for Kern County to pay the city for sewer services in newly developed areas northwest of Bakersfield rather than build its own sewage plant. But even that agreement took a year to iron out.

Price said Tandy's stubbornness and forcefulness are evidence he has the city's interests at heart.

"He is a tremendous asset to the city," Price said. "If he was just a straight-out jerk, then you could really down him."

But Tandy's accomplishments speak for themselves, he said.

"What's ... important is can you drive a good bargain for the people you have a fiduciary responsibility to? He's never failed in that respect."

Tandy makes no apologies for, as many put it, his "forceful" nature.

"Different aspects of the job require different approaches and different skills," Tandy said. "There are times when you've gone through the more preferred means of expressing yourself or trying to elicit better performance ... and there are times when clarity is the only way to get there. It's just the nature of the job."

He added, "I sometimes experience things where people think they've been chewed out or when my voice is no higher than what it is now. I don't know what it is, facial expression or what, but some people take it as ... they take it as being more intense than others."

 

PUSHING BUTTONS

Many, including Tandy himself, note his love of building projects. And one way he's accomplished so much of that is by challenging the people who work for him, said Donna Kunz, who led the city's redevelopment efforts for 11 years.

Kunz said Tandy challenged her on just about every project she presented him, even Mill Creek Linear Park, seen as a gem for the city and a reason Bakersfield was able to reel in a federal courthouse.

"'You're talking a lot of money here,'" Kunz recalled Tandy telling her when she brought him the Mill Creek idea.

"Think about it," she told him. "... We'll assemble lots of land...grants, loans.'"

"He's always unconvinced in the beginning," Kunz said. "(He says) 'How much is it going to cost us? Where are you going to get the money?'"

Mistakes have consequences with Tandy, she added. "He remembers numbers. You don't shoot from the hip, ever."

And Tandy's management style took some getting used to, Kunz said. She described him as "brutally honest, blunt, can be sharp" and said he has a temper.

"The first couple of years I thought, 'He doesn't like me,'" Kunz said. She even considered leaving. But after a time, she took those exchanges less personally, she said.

"I'd say (to other department directors), 'He's not mad at us as a person, he's mad at the situation,'" Kunz said. And she learned to appreciate Tandy's directness.

Kunz retired from the city in August. One week before her departure, Kunz mused that part of the reason she'd accomplished so much may be the driven, sometimes demanding, nature of her boss.

"He knew how to push that button," she said. "I might not have been as successful had he not pushed those buttons."

 

HOTEL

Tandy's first major task as city manager was one many cite as his most impressive accomplishment: finishing the half-built and abandoned Clarion Hotel project, a long-standing eyesore on Truxtun Avenue.

Building had stopped four years earlier, in 1988, when funding fell through. Several other financing deals had fallen apart before that. City and local business leaders played a role in the project's completion, but Tandy is credited with leading three years of negotiations to finish what many thought impossible.

Locking in a deal with John Q. Hammons Hotels Inc. to finish building and to operate the hotel was the lynchpin. The city sold the abandoned site to John Q. Hammons, a Missouri entrepreneur and Holiday Inn franchisee, for $1, and agreed to subsidies and other benefits, while Hammons made his own concessions.

Aside from the months-long negotiations with Hammons, there was opposition from union workers, other local hotel owners and the community. Tandy helped win them over through numerous speaking engagements around town with Jake Wager, then the director of redevelopment.

"(M)any believed the project would fail again," Tandy recalled. "Wager and I spoke of the strength of John Q. Hammons, the economic basis of the deal -- confidence-building to show that it was a credible business venture."

The hotel's completion allowed other development in that area, most visibly the arena, said John Stinson, who worked as assistant city manager until 2010.

"They weren't able to see the vision of what could be there," Stinson said of groups who opposed the project, including some city council members.

Tandy also struck a deal with the county to let arena visitors park at the county administrative building in exchange for letting the county use some city lots, Stinson said, adding that Tandy's cooperation with the county isn't often highlighted.

"Even when there are tensions, Alan tries to work to come to some sort of agreement," Stinson said. "Alan is a professional. ... (and) very loyal to the city and the people he serves."

 

PERSONAL SIDE

Tandy is also described as introverted and, by his own admission, he doesn't seek the limelight. At ribbon-cuttings, he's not usually out in front, but on the sidelines.

That's his personal preference.

"I chose a career as an appointed rather than elected position because I am more comfortable behind the scenes," Tandy said, quipping that a profile in The Californian doesn't help on that score.

Many have noted Tandy's work ethic, but he does take time off. He and his wife, Kate, visit their four grown children, who live in California and three other states. They take out their power boat in Ventura. He travels. He's been to Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, Central and South America. Tandy and his wife just returned from Peru, where they saw the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Tandy's corner office in City Hall North is expansive and elegant, with a fireplace and lustrous wood paneling. When a law firm owned the building, it was the office of partner George Martin, Tandy said, explaining its grand appearance.

He's also a hockey fan. On his office shelves are photos of him and teammates in the hockey leagues he plays in, the Bakersfield Blues. A hockey stick signed by Wayne Gretzky stands in the corner.

Tandy plays a right wing, or forward, position.

"He hollers from the bench like the rest of us do when he thinks something is unjust against us," said teammate John Genter, the vice president of operations at Lightspeed Systems.

"I suspect Alan approaches hockey like he approaches everything in his life, which is with a bit of intensity," Genter said. "He's very, very dependable. ... When he gets his shift (in a game), he's going to give you everything he's got."

Off the ice, Tandy has a sense of humor, he added. "He's witty, so he can certainly jump right in whatever the conversation."

 

LONG TENURE

The average tenure of a city manager across the country is seven years. Tandy's going on three times that.

He attributes that largely to doing "a pretty good job" of making happen what the city council wants. But there's also an element of luck involved, he said.

"Very good city managers get let go because a new council gets elected and you can have a circumstance where the project that one council wanted ... is the thing that the incoming group opposes and they blame you for. ... I've just been fortunate that that hasn't been the case."

There was a time, however, when his support on the council was in jeopardy. In 2000, the council held a closed session vote on whether to replace him. They decided not to, by just one vote.

Tandy demurred on the reasons for his thin support then but said it was mainly attributable to turnover on the council.

"Perhaps it took a while to establish a relationship or establish that I would really work on their goals, too," he said.

Mark Salvaggio served on the council both when Tandy was hired and during that closed session.

"Let's just say there were some concerns by three council members that Alan's style (as a) city manager ... was somewhat abrasive and cavalier," Salvaggio said of the closed session. Salvaggio said he voted to replace Tandy but now, 12 years later, sees that choice as a mistake.

Tandy can be intense, demanding of his staff and intolerant of incompetence, Salvaggio said. But his positives -- intelligence, wit and consistent communication with the council among them -- far outweigh any negatives, he said.

"His biggest trait is his unusual passion for the job as city manager," Salvaggio said. "I've never seen a work ethic like his in city government."

Benham said she and Tandy haven't always agreed, such as when Benham opposed using public funds to build a new baseball stadium for the city, but today's council regards him highly for his mastery of the issues facing the city.

"I think the council's achievements over the last 12 years that I've been serving have been very directly linked" to Tandy's performance as the city manager, she said.

One of those was the agreement with the federal General Services Administration to make Bakersfield home to a new federal courthouse, which opened this past summer.

"There were so many times that it looked hopeless ... and we kept at it, and he just knew it was important to me, important to the council," Benham said. "He just had the tenacity and the knowledge to keep at it until we succeeded."

 

NO RETIREMENT PLANS

Tandy was 42 when he came to Bakersfield, and he already had about 20 years of city administration experience. He'd been a city manager for Napoleon, Ohio, Joliet, Wyo., and Billings, Mont. He's now 63, and has no definite plans to retire.

"I don't think a city manager accepting a new job would ever say that he plans to stay 20 years," Tandy said. "It just sort of happened. I initially thought (when a) couple of the kids finished high school (he would leave)."

But there's still more work to be done, most notably the Thomas Roads Improvement Program road building, the biggest infrastructure project of Tandy's tenure yet. The $630 million in federal funds for the city would be a rare opportunity for any city manager, especially one who likes to build, he said.

The freeways were -- for the most part -- planned before he came. And though it was former Congressman Bill Thomas who landed the money that launched the construction, Tandy has applied his negotiation skills, determination and force of personality to make sure the money and the plans resulted in pavement.

"I don't ever get bored," Tandy said. "Things always change. There are always challenges."

 

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